Bonini kicks off campaign for Delaware governor

Colin Bonini kids around with Pat Buckson at his campaign kickoff Saturday (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Colin Bonini kids around with Pat Buckson at his campaign kickoff Saturday (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — State Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, faces an uphill battle in the gubernatorial race. U.S. Rep. John Carney, a Democrat, has more money and name recognition in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 317,000 to 187,000.

But even as he acknowledges the competition will be tough, Sen. Bonini says he believes he can win. Saturday, at his official campaign kickoff, 20 months after he first announced his run, the longest-serving active Republican in the Senate laid out his plan.

He intends to emphasize the economy, criminal justice and education, with a primary focus on cutting spending, lowering taxes and creating jobs — fitting for a man who describes himself as a staunch fiscal conservative and proudly points out he has never voted for the state budget in his 22 years in office.

“2016 is the year Republicans make a statement,” Sen. Bonini told an enthusiastic crowd Saturday. “2016 is the year … that Republicans take back control of Delaware and bring prosperity back to the First State.”

He spoke to about 65 people gathered in a private room at Frazier’s Restaurant. Among those present were state auditor Tom Wagner, U.S. House candidate Hans Reigle and several local officeholders and candidates.

“Bad decisions are being made,” and Sen. Bonini can reverse those actions, Levy Court Commissioner Eric Buckson said.

“There will be no wavering in him, and that’s what I like,” he said. “I love the fact that you know where he’s going to stand, he’ll explain and if you don’t like it, it’s all good, here’s a handshake, ‘you can call me any time you need me.’”

Sen. Bonini, one of the most conservative members of the General Assembly, surely does face a challenge. He must first beat newcomer Lacey Lafferty, a former state trooper whom Sen. Bonini described as a “fringe candidate,” and then he will take on Rep. Carney, who reported $449,000 on hand at the end of 2015. Sen. Bonini, in contrast, had a little less than $30,000.

Sen. Bonini noted he received 147,000 votes in a 2-percent loss in the race for state treasurer in 2010, more votes than winner Ken Simpler earned four years later.

“I think the other point is Delawareans are ready for change, and just be as blunt as I can be, our state government is broken and Delawareans are suffering, and I think people are going to have that realization between now and November,” he told reporters after speaking to the audience.

While describing his vision to the crowd, he referred to Rep. Carney as a “heck of a nice guy” who “isn’t going to change anything.”

Delaware Republicans have argued 24 consecutive years of Democratic governors has hurt the state, and Sen. Bonini said Saturday he felt officials were in some cases still living off the accomplishments of former Republican governors Pete du Pont and Mike Castle, who served from 1977 to 1992.

Although Sen. Bonini has not done a great deal of campaigning so far, neither has Rep. Carney. The senator, who will be participating in several fundraisers over the ensuing months, including one with former Republican presidential aspirant Steve Forbes, said he intends to start rolling out a series of initiatives detailing his ideas and goals.

As governor, Sen. Bonini said, he would cut taxes, reduce regulations and push right-to-work laws in an effort to grow the economy and bring businesses to the state. He also backs a proposal from Democratic Gov. Jack Markell to lock future state employees into a health savings account with the goal of shrinking health-care costs.

He is also a supporter of legalized marijuana, a stance more often seen among Democrats.

In an unexpected move, he announced on the Senate floor last month he supports the legalization of marijuana, saying since lawmakers have decriminalized cannabis, they should take the final step.

Once legalized, marijuana could be taxed, bringing in millions for the state.

“It’s the only tax I’ll ever vote for,” he said laughing.

Sen. Bonini said he would place less focus on social issues, arguing the true root causes of many social issues are related to the state’s education, economic and criminal-justice systems.

“The choice for Delaware voters is very easy and very stark,” he said. “If you like the way things are, vote for the other guy. If you think we need to change course and bring a better Delaware for tomorrow, I am kindly asking for your vote.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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